WEST ENGLEWOOD — About 51 percent of West Englewood adults smoke, the highest in the city of nine neighborhoods examined in a recently released health study.
The measure was one of several alarming findings in the Sinai Community Health Survey, a study comparing health and safety standards across different parts of the city.
The survey looked at more than 1,900 people living in Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Norwood Park, South Lawndale, West Englewood and a portion of West Town (west of Western Avenue).
At 41 percent, Humboldt Park ranked second for the highest percentage of smokers among the neighborhoods surveyed.
Both rates are staggering because only 17 percent of Americans smoke, according to the study. The national rate hasn't come anywhere close to 40 percent since the 1960s.
Nationally, about 29.8 percent of African-Americans smoke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking contributes to the three major killers for African-Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke.
The CDC says that African Americans start later than other racial groups and smoke fewer cigarettes per day, but smoke menthol cigarettes at a higher level. Some studies say menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-mentholated cigarettes.
Black Americans are also exposed to more tobacco advertising than whites, as tobacco companies have historically placed more advertising in African-American publications, the CDC says.
In the 1990s, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, fought tobacco companies over billboards erected in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. He was charged but acquitted of defacing such billboards.
The CDC adds that blacks try to quit smoking more than whites and Hispanics, but are less successful at quitting "possibly because of lower utilization of cessation treatments such as counseling and medication."
Indeed, the Sinai survey found that 76 percent of smokers in West Englewood were trying to quit, highest of the neighborhoods examined.
Each year, about 45,000 African-Americans die from smoking-related disease, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and smoking-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of death in the African-American community "surpassing all other causes of death, including AIDS, homicide, diabetes, and accidents."
"If current smoking rates persist, an estimated 1.6 million black Americans alive today under the age of 18 will become regular smokers, and about 500,000 will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease," says the campaign.
Read the full Sinai survey here.